Maple Leafs: Cause for Concern After Loss to Hurricanes?

After making a statement in the 4-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs seemed to be in a good spot heading into the weekend. They played a complete game from start to finish, while appearing to have gotten their act together after back-to-back 5-2 loses. 

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When games like that happen, you expect the team to find some sort of consistency, especially during this time of year where games and points become more important. If there was any shred of hope for stability and that things couldn’t get any worse, I’m sorry to say it did. Way worse.

The Maple Leafs didn’t just lose 6-3 to the Carolina Hurricanes; they were flat out humiliated on home ice. They were outshot 47-26, but that’s not what made this game unbearable to watch. The Hurricanes lost both of their goalies to injuries as well as one of their top defensemen. Yet, the Leafs couldn’t get anything going and lost to the Canes’ emergency backup goaltender who happens to be the zamboni driver for the Maple Leafs, who also goes in net from time to time at practice. 

This Is as Low as It Can Get

Last night was a prime example of everything that was supposed to go right based on opportunities, but didn’t. They got back to within one when David Ayres came in, after James Reimer left in the first period and Petr Mrazek left mid-way through the second after a collision with Kyle Clifford for a loose puck.

In addition with Brett Pesce already out, their old ways crept in. Turnovers, bad decisions and not utilizing their speed proved to be extremely costly for them. While all the Maple Leafs had to do was get shots on net, they couldn’t even do that properly. There was no answer at all.

Even head coach Sheldon Keefe echoed that statement about nothing happening on net and that “they didn’t even need a goalie in net” the way they were playing. 

Sheldon Keefe Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe expresses his frustration post game after a 6- 3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

This is about as low as things can get for the Maple Leafs. Too many times they’ve had opportunities to turn things around and fix the mistakes in their game, which are still evident. This is the final straw. If they couldn’t rally around and put forth a strong effort to get a win, then this isn’t the team we thought they were. Playoff teams rally around each other and play as a team, which is what the Hurricanes did. The Maple Leafs showed, again, that they aren’t a playoff team.

It seems whenever a great opportunity like this presents itself to the Maple Leafs, they collapse and the issues continue to pile up, making their situation worse than before. They always seem to fall flat and just completely give up. As TSN’s Craig Button describes it, “they fold like a cheap tent.” 

This game showed the mentality and maturity of this team. The emotion, passion, effort and intensity we saw in the 4-0 Penguins game was gone against the Hurricanes. It was as if the players just did it to get it over with and went back to their “do it our own way” mentality. Again, that attitude is going to get you nowhere in this league. The Maple Leafs’ stars need to lead the way and set a better example and they’re not even doing that properly. If you say something you’re supposed to mean it. Fans are getting tired of the chatter. They want to see results and consistency.

The only consistent results they’re seeing are poor outings and inconsistent play like against the Hurricanes, Sabres and Penguins. According to TSN’s Kristen Shilton, Mitch Marner described his game as, “a dogs*** effort”. He later added, “Everyone just has to look themselves in the mirror… It’s do-or-die time.” 

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Toronto Maple Leafs right wing Mitchell Marner (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young)

Repeating what Jake Muzzin said after their 5-2 loss to the Penguins, if they really had looked themselves in the mirror and played every game as do-or-die with results, then this would resonate well with everyone. But their performance last night is concerning, especially after showing that they can play against the best in the league. This has been happening multiple times, not just this year, but in the past as well. The Maple Leafs can say things like this all they want, but until they get results, it means nothing. It would’ve meant something if they repeated their effort from Thursday night. 

Optimism Fading Quickly?

From the Babcock firing to the injuries, I’ve tried to be positive this whole season with everything that has happened. But after last night it’s hard to be positive. They can talk all they want and say it’s not good enough, but it’s time to walk the walk. If you truly mean it, then these games wouldn’t happen on a consistent basis. But they are.

The fans and the city deserve better than this. When the fans have to chant “Let’s Go Raptors!” that should clue them in to the fact that their performance is atrocious. When the Maple Leafs play games like this, it’s hard not to feel angry because of the issues from past seasons.

Forget the 5-2 loss to the Penguins, this is the biggest wake-up call the Maple Leafs can face. If this doesn’t get their act together, then it’s going to take longer than expected for this team to be a cup contender. They’re not even close to being one, let alone a playoff team now.

Kyle Dubas made this team but he has some more tough decisions to make before the deadline and in the offseason. However, there is no immediate fix for what the Maple Leafs are facing right now. They’re third in the Atlantic Division. Unless they want to throw that away while they’re still in the hunt, then the personnel need to be re-evaluated.

I would like to think that this is the ultimate embarrassment that they could face. As good as this is for Ayres, when you’re the Maple Leafs and you don’t take advantage of this opportunity, this says a lot about your character as individuals and as a team. It doesn’t get more low and embarrassing than that. It makes the Penguins game look like a normal loss.

David Ayres Carolina Hurricanes
Carolina Hurricanes emergency goaltender David Ayres came in relief when James Reimer and Petr Mrazek both the left the game due to injuries. (John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports)

After last night’s performance, it’s time for everyone to play as a team and not just show up whenever they feel like it. 

There’s Still Hope

If this game does get through to every player on the team, and they go on a miraculous run, great! There’s so much to like about this team. They’re extremely skilled and talented but their mentality and ability to shift their focus from game to game isn’t evident compared to other teams in the league. We’re not seeing it and that’s on the players to decide how they want to be as a team. 

You should always have some sort of optimism no matter what’s going on with the team. They have the ability to turn everything around. It is possible. If they want to have success, they have no choice. If they don’t, then everyone might as well just give up, because that’s exactly what they did last night. 

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